Bottoms up at Bartell!

April 01, 2014

Could craft brews entice Millennials to spend more time, more often, at a regional drug store?

These bottoms have nothing to do with baby powder or diaper rash, even though this story is about a drug store.  Rather, craft beer on tap is an attraction at regional operator Bartell’s new store in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

Ten taps will rotate among “different Washington beers, and maybe some from Oregon,” store manager Mark Becker told the local Ballard News Tribune, noting one tap will always be root beer.

Remember, this is Seattle, the home of Starbucks, where lingering over a caffeinated brew is quite common. So why not craft beer in a locale where people can appreciate it?

To The Lempert Report, Bartell’s approach seems like a Millennial spin on the classic Walgreens soda fountain, which served food too and was a community magnet that built buzz, drew trips and lengthened store visits. As did the iconic Thrifty and Longs ice cream counters in the decades that followed.

The food-beverage strategy works in other venues today too, such as low-priced cafeterias in Ikea, coffee bars in Williams-Sonoma’s West Elm furniture chain, and fun fast foods at Costco (hot dogs, pizza, churros).

Drug stores, led by Walgreens and its Duane Reade stores in population-dense Manhattan, fill their front-ends with consumables that encroach on supermarket sales. Some prominently display fresh sushi, smoothies and other chilled and prepared foods for on-the-go eating. Other drug store operators typically emphasize candy, cookies and snacks along with fill-in food and beverage items on shelves and in cooler displays.

Clearly, beers on tap aren’t for every store. It is a selective, location-driven choice. Yet we see the concept as a novel way to satisfy customers while they wait for a prescription or photo print order, to give people a breather from a day of shopping, or to become a meeting place for Millennials. Might sandwiches and easy-to-make finger foods such as cheese plates and microwavable appetizers come next? The Bartell store already serves ice cream waffle cones daily, using its own brand. So it seems simple foods served at the counter could be a reasonable next step in the quest for longer, more frequent and pleasant store trips.